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GUEST COLUMN – Joyful quantum confessions of a mature student

Dr. Jill Calder speaks to overflow crowd at TRU Clocktower Theatre on Ajax today.

The message doesn’t always arrive. (ArmchairMayor file photo)

IT IS SO important to get out and get street smarts before going on to higher learning.

newstromcolhedBy the time I got to Simon Fraser University they called me a mature student. For almost three decades now I have been, off and on, taking courses at Thompson Rivers University. I’m an overripe student and they better get rid of me because I’m starting to smell.

That’s what happens when a boy from the cow farms survives high school strappings, other abuse and alcoholism. They go to school, take on challenges and joyfully discover stunningly interesting machines like quantum physics.

Whoa, hold on there. I didn’t want you to stop reading. This won’t be about any rocket science but it will be about you, about all of us.

Theoretical Approaches to Journalism was one of the courses I enjoyed here at Thompson River University. We studied some of the early history of the Internet and how technical specialists like Claude Shannon established links between the electricity that we use to send messages through wires or the atmosphere and how that is astonishingly similar to how we experience face to face banter with family members in our homes or with a neighbor over the back fence. This also includes how we use our cell phones and social media.

This might seem straightforward but consider this. If I give directions to a friend on my cell phone and because of static on the device an important part of the message didn’t get there and I don’t know about it, my friend didn’t tell me, that is what Claude Shannon tagged as entropy or loss.

Claude Shannon.

Claude Shannon.

It can also be called drop out or just static. The issue this: an important part of the message was not heard and that can lead to errors and confusion.

But this problem of entropy also happens when I’m chatting with my neighbor over the back fence. If she explains something to me and I don’t understand it but I don’t tell her, that’s entropy. If I do tell her, she explains it in clearer terms and I still don’t understand the problem persists. It is still entropy.

In all these situations we first have the thought process or the intention of the message sender, followed by the sending of the message. The message is then heard or partly heard. It may be understood, interpreted or misinterpreted. Finally, the receiver of the message may, or may not, respond or act.

These sending and receiving of messages and instructions by humans are honeycombed with if-then circumstances and probabilities. But these uncertainties also happen in the flow of heat from the sun, electricity both human generated and in thunderstorms, and in how molecules and in atoms behave. The similarities to what happens in nature, matter and all kinds of energy is surprisingly similar to how humans handle communications.

In exploring these physical occurences Claude Shannon discovered information theory. Information theory has led to a field of study called the quantum theory of information. This is going to keep me smelling and researching for a long time.

Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and sometime university student.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5002 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on GUEST COLUMN – Joyful quantum confessions of a mature student

  1. Yes, -What? Read the article again, carefully, and I’ll get back to you…Overripe Student

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